Posts Tagged ‘ don valley parkway ’

Thoughts on cycling from North York to Downtown

Yesterday I challenged myself to ride downtown and back from my new home in the Sheppard and Don Mills area. Since I moved in a month and a half ago, I have been contemplating what route would be best and how long it might take. I was also thinking of how arduous the trip back might be–uphill the whole way, I thought.

Thanks to the internet and modern technology, I was able to figure out what the most efficient way downtown would be. I also considered the safety factor and the amount of riding on trails vs. roadways I was comfortable with. After some consideration, I came up with this route.

You will notice that about half my ride was on Don Mills Road, essentially a hilly six-lane north-south highway. I studied some of the ravine trails, as well as the Toronto Cycling Map, but I found most of the connections to be complicated and a bit out of the way (further complicated by the fact that the Leaside Rail Trail is not yet complete– a key connection for this route). Hence I decided to take a risk on Don Mills, with the knowledge that there are “HOV”/Priority curb lanes (meaning only taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, buses and cars with 3+ occupants can use it). It should be noted that these lanes are only in effect during rush hours (7am-10am and 3pm-7pm, Monday to Friday).

The curbside priority lanes on Don Mills Road (Google StreetView capture)

I started out from my home around 5:30pm, meaning the priority lanes were in effect. For the most part, riding along Don Mills was not too bad– cars respected the priority lane and traffic came in bursts from stoplights. Though I would not take my teenage siblings for a ride along Don Mills due to the safety factor, it was efficient and usable enough for me. The only complaints I have would be the large potholes, sewer grates and aggressive taxi drivers that made me uncomfortable at select points.

Following Don Mills from Sheppard all the way down to its unceremonious end at the Don Valley Parkway, I made the mistake of not turning off Don Mills at the Ontario Science Centre. Don Mills south of Overlea Boulevard becomes a four-lane undivided expressway, with cars racing down the hill towards the Don Valley Parkway at speeds upwards of 80 km/h. South of Overlea Boulevard you also lose the priority lane, and so you are squeezed up against the curb (no sidewalks on the west side of Don Mills, either). Finally, at the foot of a long hill, I found the entrance to the Lower Don Trail system that I had identified on my computer at home. However, that entrance (mostly for cars) was a dangerous left turn for a cyclist to make. I was stopped at the side of the road for a good 3 minutes, waiting for a suitable gap in the four lanes of traffic– but it was far too difficult. Fortunately, I rode 100m further south and there I found an entrance to the trail. Safe and sound, off the wild Don Mills Road.

The Lower Don trail is wonderful. Mostly flat and a suitable width for two-way traffic, I zoomed downtown on the second leg of my journey. I saw all sorts of people on bicycles– mid-aged gearheads, families with children, elderly couples, and casual cyclists. While the trail was busy, not once did I get stuck behind pedestrians or joggers while waiting to pass. My only complaint on this portion of the trip were the number of portions where the trail narrowed significantly– especially a portion where it appeared an embankment for the DVP was being rehabilitated. A narrow two-way trail and construction fencing made for some danger.

I was also struck at how the straightened portion of the Don River had the potential to be just like, if not better than, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. As I cycled, I looked to my left and saw a neighbourhood (Corktown) full of old brick warehouses and shiny new condominiums peering over the DVP towards the Don. It occurred to me that if it weren’t for the tangle of infrastructure (the DVP ramps, rail line, hydro corridor), the chain-link fencing, rusty wall along the Don, and the non-landscaped foliage, this would be a tourist magnet.

Finally, after some confusing detours through the under-renovation East Bayfront area, I reached my destination– Sherbourne Common and Sugar Beach. I cannot write enough about how brilliant these new public spaces are (and Sherbourne Common isn’t even finished yet!). The parks offered brilliant new views of the Toronto skyline and out to the Harbour. While the incomplete Common was not very busy, Sugar Beach was bustling with kids playing in the splashpad, a couple taking wedding photos, hipster women reading books, and groups of people leisurely sitting and chatting. A brand-new restaurant just opened in the Corus Quay building had an enormous patio that has yet to be discovered by mainstream Toronto. As a planner, I really appreciate this type of city-building– creating well-designed public spaces first, and letting the private investment follow.

Sherbourne Common. (My photo)

After a half-hour respite on the beach, I set out on my way back. Knowing the first half of my trip would be flat (contrary to the second half), I really pushed my speed on the trail. I found the trail that took me up to the Ontario Science Centre rather than trying to battle the hill on Don Mills. Still, I knew I would have to conquer a massive hill coming out of the valley, and so I did, up from the Science Centre’s service yard. I made it about three-quarters of the way up before my legs gave out.

Long hill at Ontario Science Centre (Google StreetView capture)

After a five-minute rest, I set out up Don Mills Road, without the safety of the rush-hour priority lanes. However, traffic was light which allowed me some relaxed riding. As I struggled up the last big hill to cross over the 401, my legs cramped up. I got off my bike, walked the rest of the hill, and stopped briefly to enjoy the view. A ride I will surely do again.

From Don Mills bridge over the 401, looking west. (My photo)

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Joe Warmington is angry

In an article published today, September 1, Joe Warmington gets worked up about a 2.5 km bus bypass lane on the Don Valley Parkway. I mean really worked up.

Normally, I don’t mind a bit when a columnist has a strong opinion. Usually they are honest, fact-driven and more often than not, help me reflect on my own opinion of the issue. However, when the column is so full of falsities, needless slander and misrepresentations of facts, I have a huge problem.

First, some background. Back in May, the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee looked at the proposed GO bus bypass lane, which would run, north and south, from the Lawrence Ave. interchange to approximately 450 m north of the York Mills Rd. interchange. The lane, as proposed, would be on both sides of the road, and help make GO bus trips during rush hour a little faster.

I think it is a pretty widely accepted notion that transit systems should have priority over private automobiles where possible. Riders are decreasing the environmental cost their travel puts on the city’s air, and are also helping to decrease congestion by not using their own private automobile.

However, Mr Warmington seems to have missed this completely. Instead of a cost-effective way to decrease travel time and harmful emissions, he sees the lane as “another fishing hole” for Toronto’s police to exploit, and another battle in the fictitious “war on the car”. This is because there is an $85 fine for mis-use of the lane. What Mr Warmington ignores is the fact that previous to being a bus bypass lane, this piece of highway was a shoulder– not to be used by motorists except in emergency situations– which remains the case today. Even before the lanes were painted on, any motorist who decided to travel on the shoulder would have been subjected to a fine. Or is he suggesting that the shoulder should not exist?

Next, Mr Warmington attacks the cost of these lanes. $120 000, he infers, is just another example of council wasting your hard-earned money. He says that cost is paid by you–the Toronto taxpayer– and you should be outraged. However, he contradicts his own newspaper, which in a May article, says the cost will be “funded entirely by Metrolinx”. Now I suppose I am splitting hairs a little bit here, because Metrolinx is a provincial agency, and Torontonians pay tax to the provincial government. But the cost is ultimately borne by all of Ontario.

Mr Warmington goes on to say that “all this really does is make your life harder”. I assume when he is talking about “your life” it is about you, the motorist who so bravely and valiantly tackles the DVP every day. However, he is wrong again. This will make your life no harder. This lane didn’t exist before, so it’s not being taken away from motorists. Instead, you, the driver, won’t get stuck behind that slow, stinky GO bus. Not to mention the fact that it will make life easier for the people that take one of those buses (kudos to Mr Warmington, who actually makes this point).

Really, this article was an opportunity Mr Warmington saw to slay some of the demons that have been bothering him in recent months. First he refers to the “bicycle-socialists” that have dreamed this up “to help pay for some new environmentally-friendly bunny suits”, a reference to an incident of alleged misspending by a councillor on rabbit mascot suits. Then, he pities the poor, “ostracized motorist” that “no one seems to care about”, all the while having “20 minutes stolen from the north Toronto commuter on Jarvis St. thanks to the new bike lanes built for Councillor Kyle Rae’s 100 cycling friends”. Nevermind that those quotes are contained in one, run-on sentence, the supposed facts contained in the thought are just plain wrong. The City has not tested the traffic impact of the new bike lanes yet (because it’s summer) but they are projected to cause a maximum of 2 minutes to be added to an automobile commute. Meanwhile, bikes are not taking up an entire lane, and everyone is safer.

Is the motorist in Toronto really “ostracized”? In some parts of the city, it is more difficult to drive than it is to walk or cycle. In other parts, mostly the inner suburbs, it is downright dangerous to walk or cycle because the automobile so dominates. Sure, prices are going up for gas, for insurance, for cars themselves, and traffic is always getting worse, so I can see how Mr Warmington can get confused. But drivers are far from “ostracized”. If anything, the cyclist and transit rider are ostracized by Mr Warmington, who is suggesting that cyclists should only travel on routes that already have bike lanes, and bus passengers should have to suffer equally with single-driver automobiles stuck in traffic.

What really grinds my gears is when Mr Warmington refers to “regular people”– the mythical group of Canadian politics. The beauty of using this term is that it refers to anyone the reader wants it to– or anything the writer wants it to. In this case, “regular people” are hard-working, law-abiding, overtaxed motorists. Not hard-working, law-abiding, overtaxed transit riders. No, you see, they are being “protected and serviced by public sector service workers making close to or more than six figures”, surely another one of Mr Warmington’s City Demons.

He once again forgets that so-called “struggling families” (only those that drive cars, remember) can avoid this new $85 fine simply by not driving on the shoulder, just as they have been.

Really, there are so many generalizations, misrepresentations and undeserved slaggings in this article that I could have written three more posts about it. But Mr Warmington is right about one more thing: “The truth is there really is no war at all”. No war. No spending controversy. Just an efficient use of taxpayer dollars that will make a real difference for GO bus passengers.